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Posts Tagged ‘plants’

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWe were planning to start our seeds the other day and I was about to go dumpster diving for containers when I got “Monday-ed.”  By that I mean that somehow dinner got ruined (don’t buy discount tortellini, okay?) and we had to order delivery. (Note to self: be more prepared for last-minute menu changes) As a bonus, Pizza Hut puts their wings in these nifty metal trays perfect for lots of things! Yes. I save them. Don’t judge.

So here we are creating masterpieces with dirt. I sprung for the Jiffy Mix because we had so much luck with it in the past. The girls had marigold seeds they collected last year and a gift of Lilly seeds from Pookah’s friend (thanks!). While they were busy planting those, I worked on Cauliflower, Brussels sprouts, and kohlrabi. It’s easy. Just put water and seeds in the starter mix. Detailed instructions here.

Pookah & Tootsie starting flower seeds

Pookah & Tootsie starting flower seeds

We put a single seed type into each container and then wrap with a plastic bag to keep the moisture in. Pookah wants to remind you how important it is to label each container. Then place them in a warm spot where you will remember to check them daily. Guess where we keep ours.

Always place them where you will remember to check daily for signs of germination

Always place them where you will remember to check daily for signs of germination

You can see the condensation beginning already. That moisture is not going anywhere. And now we wait…

Actually, we have some cleaning up to do. We made a fabulous mess.

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Last Spring, while we were expecting Tootsie to come along in the middle of June, I didn’t know how much energy or time I would have to maintain a garden.  I wondered:  even if I got it started, how would I keep it weeded?  I envisioned a mass of wild grasses choking out my vegetable plants.  But someone recommended the book  Square Foot Gardening by Mel Bartholomew and I took her advice.  (Thank you, Becky)  I found the book at the library and skimmed it quick for the basic idea.  It changed the way I garden!

Instead of digging up a large area at once and planting everything in rows, the square foot gardener divides the garden into smaller, more manageable areas.  Each square foot is assigned a number of plants, according to their size.  I was surprised at the suggested numbers per square, it seemed like a lot in some cases, but the point of the book is to create an efficient, compact space.  Not only was I able to cram more vegetables into our small space, but I was able to work 1 square at a time, using just the hand tools, which saved me energy and time.  Working step by step, preparing the area for each variety of veg, I didn’t concern myself at all with the weedy area assigned for another day.  As I worked along, I appreciated how much this system would benefit a person of limited physical ability.  I thought about some of the mature folks I’ve spoken to over the years who “used to garden” but find it physically overwhelming now.  As for me, in my condition, I would not have had a garden at all last year.  This year, I’ve decided to use the same technique on a larger scale.

So, if you want to give it a try without looking at the book, you’ll essentially do something like this:

2 ft by 2 ft squares divided into quads

That’s my interpretation of it, anyway.  My squares are side by side because I only have a 17′ x 3′ space to work in, but you could make a 4 foot by 4 foot raised bed and divide it up as such.  I used all scrap wood and I have to admit, I probably could have looked harder for more of those nice, flat, 2 foot boards, but I’m short on time these days.  The boards should be something you could step on to get to the back of the garden.  In our case, we don’t have that kind of depth to be concerned about.  Do you see how they control weeds and keep you focused on a small area?  I did take advantage of the space in front of those short boards by planting marigold seeds.  If you don’t have marigolds in your vegetable garden, consider adding them as an organic method of insect repellant.  They look cute, too. 

After dividing the space, we assigned plants. 

To calculate how many plants per square, look on the back of the seed packet.  If the suggested plant spacing says:

  • 12″ apart, plant 1 per square
  • 6″ apart, plant 4 per square
  • 4″ apart, plant 9 per square
  • 3″ apart (or less), plant 16 per square

Here’s the visual:

Broccoli, cauliflower, and brussels sprouts require 1 full square.  Green beans can be sown 9 per square, so we chose 3 non-connecting squares for 3 different varieties.  Assigning squares in this way also makes crop rotation easier.  Next year, just move your vegetables to a new square.  It’s important that you wear pink tulle during the process as this contributes to the collection of loose soil and dry leaves.  

these transplants get 1 square foot each

You can maximize the squares by allowing companion plants to share space.  We tucked some herb seeds in the center of each quad, then we rolled out the soaker hose.  Here’s what it looked like when we unfurled it.  It will calm down after a while, but it’s probably wise to lay it out in the sun for a day or two so it’s not a real wrestling match to set it down.

make watering easy

I recommend getting a soaker hose.  We bought this 50 foot long one from The Christmas Tree Shops for $6.99.  It’s totally worth it to not have to drag a hose out every day.  Poor watering techniques create roots that reach for the surface and weaken the plant.  Always water deeply to anchor those roots in the ground.  Watering and weeding are your biggest time-consumers, whatever you can do to make those 2 things easier on yourself will really pay off in the long run.

I hope seeing what we’ve done in our small garden encourages you to give it a try.  You really don’t need a lot of space to enjoy gardening.  Learning to work the space you have is key.  This is just one of many techniques that allow you to grow more food in less space.  Think outside the box.

Related article:  From Seed to Kitchen, Phase 4  

A note about watering your garden: 

A soaker hose is a hose with lots of tiny holes in it that allows the water to drip gently on the ground, preventing muddy splashes, puddles, and plant damage.  It “soaks” the ground.  It comes with one end that has a connector to fit your regular garden hose (or spout) and the other end has a cap.  The cap can be removed to connect another hose.  You lay it (pins are available to hold it in place) on the ground around your plants and leave it for the season.

When we first transplant the plants or seeds into the garden, we water daily to promote downward root growth.  Silverback turns the spout on his way to the car in the morning and I run out in my jammies to shut it off in about 20 minutes.  I’m a little surprised we don’t have this automated yet.  🙂  A hose timer would be helpful.

We also watch the weather, if rainfall is expected, we don’t waste water. 

As the plants become established, less watering is necessary and we rely more on mother nature.

Morning is the best time to water, for several reasons. 

  1. less evaporation, less waste. 
  2. less likely for the heat of the sun to scorch wet foliage. 
  3. night watering leaves plants susceptible to mildew and fungus.

Also, watering the ground – not the leaves – helps prevent damage and mildew.  So, if you choose not to use a soaker hose, be sure to aim low with your garden hose each time you water.  Keep the flow low so you are not blasting up mud or pushing the plants around.

 

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Getting bigger each week. 

See how the roots are forming along the planted stem of the tomato plant?  That will make the plant strong.  The birth leaves are dying back.  Their work is done.  We can remove those by pinching the base of each leaf with our thumbnail and finger, being careful not to damage the stem. 

And here are the leaves of that plant.  This is the happiest plant we have.  Tomatoes definitely benefit from being planted in a deep container.

Remember that I am a few weeks ahead, so if your plants don’t look like this yet, that’s okay.  Go back and look at the weekly photos from past weeks to compare.

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When you transplant a tomato plant, choose a tall container and plant the entire stem – right up to its leaves – in soil.  This will develop a hardy root system for a strong plant. 

Here is a little experiment to help Pookah understand what is happening under the soil.  We used a clean, clear plastic bottle from our recycle bin, cut the top off, and poked holes in the bottom.  We gently pressed the plant against the side of the container and filled it with soil.  Then, we covered the container with a sleeve made of black construction paper to prevent light from affecting the roots.  We placed it in a shallow bowl so we can water it from the bottom and set it under the light with the rest of our plants.  Let’s watch the roots develop over the coming weeks together.  I’ll share the photos with you and we’ll see what happens.  (more…)

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transplanted to potting soil

Some of our seedlings are ready for transplant.  They have developed their second set of leaves, the true leaves, and are in need of nutrient rich soil. (more…)

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MISTAKES & RETAKES

I think it was a water issue.  I’ve been adding more water and development seems to have picked up a little.

Broccoli 4 weeks after planting

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Carrots from the SWC

I’d call this a success.  Today, we harvested 4 pretty carrots from the self-watering container we built.  We planted many seeds in succession, several weeks apart.  Now that the mature plants have been removed, their predecessors will receive more light and will be ready to eat in a few more weeks.  I think we should pop a few more seeds in today and keep on going.  We are also experimenting with a tomatillo plant.  If it doesn’t over-crowd the carrots, we will move the container to the greenhouse when the weather gets cool in hopes of achieving the artificial tropic season that it prefers. (more…)

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